Handfasting is a very ancient marriage ceremony. In earlier times, it was very difficult for a couple to be wed by a clergyman. Depending on country, either the cost was prohibitive or the clergy had left responsibility for marriages with the state. For many couples who fell in love, handfasting was their only recourse. In fact, handfastings were considered a legal ceremony in Scotland until 1939. Since handfasting was legal, many English couples eloped over the border to Gretna Green to marry, especially if their parents disapproved of the couple being wed.
Many handfastings were performed by the couple themselves. There are no written records of the ceremonies. However, the couple usually spoke of their love for each other and made vows to one another. Even if a clergyman was present, the couple determined what was vowed.
To symbolize the unity of the couple, a cord or sash was used to tie their hands together. Usually the hands were tied in one of two ways: 1) the right hands of both were tied; or 2) the right hands were held together and the left hands were held together forming a infinity shape between the two. The hands were tied early in the ceremony and left tied until the end of the ceremony. Some couples who had witnesses would leave the hands tied during the festivities held after the ceremony. The phrase used to describe weddings, “tying the knot”, came from this practice.
Our Handfasting Party
Our Handfasting party consisted of our friend Brett, who performed the ceremony, our friend, Robin, who assisted Brett, and ourselves. We performed this ceremony in honour of our heritage. We appreciate our family and friends who were with us to share this precious moment.
As in the traditional Scottish ceremony, we used a tartan sash to tie our hands, which now is displayed in our living room. Towards the end of the ceremony, we released each other’s hands and “tying the knot” into the sash. The tartan we have picked is called, “Pride of Scotland”, pictured on the left hand side of this page. It is one of the national Scottish tartans.
Our Handfasting Ceremony
Our Handfasting ceremony was held in our home about a month after our wedding. We invited our close friends and relatives to attend. For many of them, our handfasting was a new concept, and many told us how much they enjoyed the experience. To this day, our tied knot is displayed in our living room and is a lovely reminder of our unity and our beautiful ceremonies.